Tag Archives: FANTASY

LONDON FILM FESTIVAL REVIEW – BORDER (2018)

LONDON FILM FESTIVAL REVIEW – BORDER (2018)

Directed by: Ali Abbasi

Produced by: Nina Bisgaard, Peter Gustafsson, Petra Jonsson

Screenplay by: Ali Abbasi, Isabella Eklöf, John Ajvide Lindqvist

Based on: Border by John Ajvide Lindqvist

Starring: Eva Melander, Jorgen Thorsson, Ann Petrén, Sten Ljunggren

Music by: Christoffer Berg, Martin Derkov

Cinematography: Nadim Carlsen

**SPOILER FREE REVIEW**

grans-2018-001-eva-melander-corridor

If you go down to the woods today you’re sure of a big surprise. Indeed, one of Border’s many strengths is the constant way co-writer and director Ali Abbasi invokes the strangeness of John Ajvide Lindqvist’s original short story to constantly shock and move us. Because while linear in structure and reliant on structural beats from the rites of passage, romance, fantasy and crime genres, Border, is one of the most original and interesting films you could see all year.

We open with the lead protagonist, Tina, working for the Swedish Border Agency. She is a seemingly sad and isolated individual with, what she believes is, a chromosome deficiency in her genetics. Her features leave her open to cruel ridicule from members of the public. However, she is excellent at her job. In fact, her hook is the ability to literally smell fear or guilt on the people coming through customs. Subsequently, Tina’s superiors start to use her to investigate more serious crimes.

Border (1)

As this is occurring Tina meets Vore, a man with a similar “condition” to her and this is when her life really begins to spiral into very dark and exciting places. Similar to another film I saw called Beast (2017) the film is, at its heart, about sexual awakening and breaking free of the constrictions of society and family. Eva Melander, beneath the very convincing prosthetics, gives an outstanding performance of a woman finding out an incredible truth about herself and her past.

As a character study this film is very powerful. Tina’s world is turned upside down and she is faced with some horrific choices at the end. Arguably, the crime element of the story doesn’t quite meld with her rites of passage journey. Moreover, some of the fantasy elements from Scandinavian folklore required further research after the fade out. Yet, this remains very brave filmmaking with fascinating themes relating to: ritual and child abuse; nature versus nurture; good versus evil; and how those humanity believes to be outsiders should not be treated as monsters but instead with respect and love.

Mark: 8.5 out of 11

FAMILIARITY AND NOSTALGIA IN THE FANTASY FILM GENRE 

FAMILIARITY AND NOSTALGIA IN THE FANTASY FILM GENRE* 

“Here you leave today and enter the world of yesterday, tomorrow, and fantasy.”
Walt Disney Company

Once upon a Time. . . four simple words which immediately conjure a whole host of possibilities and eventualities in literature and by extension, cinema. In her book A Once Upon a Time: A Short History of Fairy Tale, Marina Warner attests that fairy tales are “Stories that try to find the truth and give us glimpses of greater things. . . this is the principle that underlies their growing presence in writing, art and cinema.” My own personal experience growing up was of reading fairy tales, myths and legends. Indeed, such stories formed a narrative backbone to my childhood and opened my mind to all manner of worlds of monsters, magicians, Kings, Queens, dragons, spiders, ghosts, gold-haired heroines, muscular heroes, acts of love and war, epic journeys; as well as breath-taking battles and feats of unimaginable compassion and bravery.

Image result for lord of the rings

Such an education conditioned my young mind for an array of imaginative potentialities and in later life my love of fairy tales and stories would bleed through into my love of cinema. But how does one make the leap off the page onto the screen, making that which is fantastic believable to our eyes, hearts and minds? In this article I would like to consider certain ways we have been conditioned and how storytellers develop their narratives in the fantasy genre. How does the unbelievable become believable in our minds? There are many ways in which this is achieved but I would like to focus on two methods which are familiarity and nostalgia.

How does one define fantasy cinema?  One could certainly posit the notion that the fantasy genre deals with fantastic themes including: magic, the supernatural, myth, folklore, exotic worlds, and fairy tales; and for the benefit of this article can encapsulate science fiction, horror and superhero movie genres. Essentially, fantasy is that which is not of our perceived rendition of reality, enabling escape into the extraordinary. Fantasy cinema is not simply dragons and wizards but more far-reaching as their stories cast their magic from childhood to adulthood. I myself recall the day when I first saw The Wizard of Oz (1939) as Dorothy’s journey from Oz literally took my breath away. Moreover, only recently I marvelled at the fantastic images and comedy of Thor: Ragnarok (2017) on the big screen.

Image result for wizard of oz

Lew Hunter’s book Screenwriting 434 is a fine research tool for all budding writers. He opines, “You have to make the audience care about your on-screen people and their dilemmas, and when that occurs you’ve created believable unbelievabilty. Audiences will not just get with a film that starts with what they perceive as unbelievable unbelievability.” Thus, this is an integral rule in getting the audience to suspend disbelief and come into a fantastic world. I mean for every Lord of the Rings Trilogy, which in my view brilliantly brought to life J. R. R. Tolkien’s incredible literary behemoth, you get many films which fail to achieve this. Peter Jackson obviously used, at the time, state of the art special effects to achieve his vision of the book but more important, in my view, is establishing the world and characters in the audience’s psychology and making the unbelievable believable.

As aforementioned there are many other movies which do not arguably work as fantasy films. Of course these are subjective choices but offerings such as: The Island of Dr Moreau (1996), Judge Dredd (1995), Batman and Robin (1997), Van Helsing (2004), Cat Woman (2004) The Lady in the Water (2006), Eragon (2008), Foodfight (2012), Terminator: Genisys (2015), Death-Note (2017), to name a few, could all be argued to have failed to make the unbelievable believable. Be it the poor writing, bad production choices or a lack of cogency in the presentation of the rules of their respective worlds, these are a few examples of movies which arguably did not work. But what of the films that successfully connect with our imagination. How do they achieve that?

Image result for terminator

Disney Studios has been presenting animated and live action films for close to a century now. As well as developing short animated films centred on iconic characters such as Mickey Mouse, Disney Studios used established texts too. Their first short was Little Red Riding Hood (1922) and subsequently they would win an Oscar for The Three Little Pigs (1933). Thus, the Disney template of utilising familiar stories from folklore or fairy tales was born and since then they have produced many, many such short and feature length productions such as: Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937), Sleeping Beauty (1959) and The Little Mermaid (1989). The suspension of narrative disbelief is achieved because innately we are accustomed to the idea of talking animals or wicked witches or half-woman-half-fish characters as they were familiarised to us in infancy. Indeed, as famous fantasy writer Neil Gaiman confirms, “We encounter fairy tales as kids, in retellings or panto. We breathe them. We know how they go.” Thus, believable unbelievability is achieved due to conditioning as children with the extraordinary. Likewise, our acclimatization with commercial products when growing up, including toys such as: Lego, Transformers, Barbie and the Pixar’s ingenious Toy Story trilogy tap into this familiarity model and the child’s dream that perhaps our toys can actually come to life.

As we grow older though many of us can become cynical and lose the innocence and imagination we had when younger. Thus, the challenge for filmmakers is to make not only children but also adults believe in the fantastic and the unbelievable. One way of doing this is through nostalgia or harking back to narrative conventions established from yesteryear. Academic Frederick Jameson wrote in his seminal essay Postmodernism and Consumer Society, that society entered a key cultural period from around the 1960s onwards where modernism had given rise to postmodernism and that originality per se was being replaced by emulation; more specifically satire, parody and pastiche. He goes on to suggest “. . . individualism and personal identity is a thing of the past. . . stylistic innovation is no longer possible and all that is left is the imitate dead styles.” A cinematic element of pastiche he argues is the “nostalgia film” which consists, not of original narrative, but of film moments and narratives from the previous films.

Image result for film pastiche

Indeed, one of the most successful cinema franchises of all time is George Lucas’ series which began with, Star Wars (1977). While containing many original elements in regard to the fictional monsters, creatures, planets, space ships, weapons, heroes and villains it’s structurally very familiar, featuring the archetypal hero rescuing a “Princess in a Tower” narrative.  Even the “Once Upon a Time. . .” like beginning is echoed in the now classic opening text: “A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away. . .” Moreover, the expositional crawl which then follows is inspired by the early Saturday cinema sci-fi adventures such as: Flash Gordon. Lucas’ genius in using such nostalgic devices creates a clear pattern of familiarity and mental preparation for the fantasy elements yet to come in the story. Lastly, and less obvious, Star Wars also draws heavily, in terms of structure and characters, from Akira Kurosawa’s classic film Hidden Fortress (1958).

Similarly, J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series is equally adept at creating a magical world out of nostalgia and familiarity. The films are all structured around the school year and generally begin with an opening set-piece set in a mundane suburban area before slowly introducing the fantasy elements. Of course, some of us may not be so nostalgic for our school years but we are familiar with the educational structure. The Harry Potter books and films are a creative stroke of genius creating both emotional connections for children and adults. Children see the characters of Harry, Hermione and Ron as reflection and wish to emulate such characters; while adults can look back on their school days nostalgically and perhaps also enjoy the magical adventures from a position of halcyon positivity. What Star Wars and Harry Potter both offer is a means to project some incredibly fantastical elements but make it believable by setting their worlds in a recognizable environment such as school or through the stylistic signifiers like the opening Star Wars text.

Image result for star wars original poster

Ultimately, most of us love reading or going to the cinema in order to be entertained and escape from our reality. However, if the writer or filmmakers have not successfully created a suspension of disbelief we as an audience will fail to enter their fantasy world. Quality writing, production design, costumes, make-up, performance are of course integral to ensuring we believe what we read and see on the screen. However, as I have attested films also work on a more psychological level of drawing us in using methods such as familiarity and nostalgia to tell their stories. We may not even be aware of this but to make the unbelievable believable it paradoxically must connect with our prior knowledge and experiences, especially those we had as children.

*Originally posted on http://www.sothetheorygoes.com

 

 

 

GAME OF THRONES – SEASON 7 – REVIEW & RANDOM THOUGHTS

GAME OF THRONES – SEASON 7 REVIEW & RANDOM THOUGHTS

**ABSOLUTELY NO SPOILERS**

la-et-game-of-thrones-season-7-brienne-20170420

I’ll be honest: in my younger days of arrogance or confidence or know-it-all-prideful-youth – whatever you want to call it – I used to be an ultra-critical, negative and a bit of a spoilt moaner. But, as my time ticks away ever so slowly and I crawl closer to death, I believe I have grown more mature and reasonable. I remain analytical and active in my viewing and while I am someone who mildly obsesses about certain movies, TV shows, sports and other cultural stuff, I still recoil with embarrassment at the negative hysteria you get online and in social media in regard to life, politics, celebrities, pop videos and more specifically TV programmes or films.

Of late the fury of the Internet “haters” or “trolls” was aimed with fundamental ire at the all-female-led-cast Ghostbusters movie. Who really cared?!?  It was an okay film; not great. My main problem was that it was not particularly well written or directed despite the excellent efforts of the cast. In another sexist tirade the online public hacks also attacked the casting of excellent actress Jodie Whittaker as the new Doctor Who. I mean the Doctor is a shape-shifting alien who changes bodies and heaven forbid that, after thirteen men (including John Hurt’s War Doctor) in the role, a woman suddenly be cast!

got5.jpg

Why are people so over-the-top with their reactions I ask myself? Maybe they are channelling their life disappointments or existential anger by way of dissociative behaviour. Criticizing these casting decisions could be a way of distancing themselves from the pain of life.  Or perhaps the more socially-charged analysts could argue that filmmakers and TV showrunners are cowering to the liberal left and changing such roles to be more PC! Or maybe they are simply just nuts!?

I guess everyone is entitled to an opinion and the Internet, for better or worse, has given power to those opinions. I just don’t understand why people get so angry though!  I mean some of the criticisms aimed at the latest season of Game of Thrones were admittedly erudite and thoughtful; however, much of the wrath toward the writers ranged from the silly to the furious to nit-picking pedantry of the highest order. It’s as if the online villagers of YouTube, Facebook and Twitter had been sharpening their pitchforks and lighting their torches before the show had even aired.

My view of Game of Thrones is simple. The first six seasons gave me some of the greatest televisual enjoyment I have ever experienced. In terms of character, plotting, dialogue, action, reversals, twists, shocks, romance, performance, political intrigue, editing, direction and jaw-dropping-heart-pounding-tension it is ONE OF THE GREATEST TV SHOWS EVER!

game-of-thrones-season-7

Thus, Season 7 had a lot to live up to and in some ways it has been a victim of its own success. When you raise the bar that high it is of no surprise if such heights dip on occasions. Having said that I thought Season 7 was fantastic TV; and I’m not the only one. It was seven episodes of brilliant entertainment with too many wonderful moments to mention.  But the online village hordes were quick to complain with vehement cries of “Burn the Writers!”  Moans included:

  • The writing’s not as good as the earlier Seasons!
  • George R. R. Martin’s careful characterisation and plots have gone!
  • The pace is TOO quick compared to the prior Seasons!
  • Too many character reunions!
  • The map has been compressed and characters seem to teleport!
  • Too many plot-holes and character inconsistencies.
  • The White Walkers / Night King enemy are too one-dimensional.
  • It’s just not as good as the books!
  • It’s become too predictable!
  • Show-runners D.B. Weiss and David Benioff are the Anti-Christ!  game-of-thrones-season-7-arya

While I agree in regard to the geographical shifts of characters and speeding up of the plot points is different to the previous Seasons, I don’t believe the entertainment value has been lost; in fact it has been heightened. I also don’t agree that the writing is bad. The show, having built up much good faith in the earlier more politically charged Seasons has now shifted to a faster more cinematic pace rather than the steady literary tread of George R. R. Martin’s work. Of course, the book is ALWAYS better than the film or show as a rule but it’s a different medium altogether.  We’re reaching the end of the show and the characters’ arcs are peaking toward denouement so the increased pace is understandable.  In regard to predictability, well, there’s only one way the whole show was going and the battle between Ice and Fire has been on the cards since the first episode! WINTER IS HERE!!  I realise many are disappointed in this shift having committed many hours to watching the show; but I honestly think the show remains as powerful as ever.

EVERYONE is now a screenwriter and while it is much fun to decide how you want the characters you love to behave, just because they do something slightly different to what you, or George R.R. Martin would do, it doesn’t mean it is bad writing or illogical. On the contrary Season 7 contained some exciting writing and an incredible amount of memorable moments. These included: Daenerys’ dragons wreaking havoc; the magnificent masculine mission beyond the Wall; Oleanna and Jamie’s words; Cersei’s continued despotic mania; a summit meeting between many of our major characters; the Hound; Jorah’s redemption; Arya’s special set of skills;the Night King and his horde; Jamie’s doubts; Brienne’s loyalty; the weirdo Bran; and all manner of incredible battle scenes on sea, air, ice and land.

These sequences plus many more and the great direction, acting, design and character twists throughout meant that I was transfixed from start to finish. I do agree that at times it felt rushed in places and ten episodes would have fleshed out some of the more temporal issues. But hey, it was still amazing from my perspective.

Game of Thrones, ultimately is a TV programmes with dragons and zombies and in between human beings attempting to out-plot and out-kill each other.  I agree there was a more Shakespearean feel to the earlier episodes and we have experienced a shift from a literary style to the cinematic.  However, I couldn’t care less and would advise the armchair screenwriters, clickbait critics and online trolls to cease bitching and stop watching the show if you don’t enjoy it any more. Because unlike this highly entertaining show YOU ARE GETTING VERY BORING!

TIME TO SAY GOODBYE – DR WHO – SERIES 10 REVIEW

TIME TO SAY GOODBYE – DR WHO – SERIES 10 REVIEW

TIME AND RELATIVE DIMENSIONS IN SPACE

I love Doctor Who and have written many times about it on this blog with reviews and articles. I think what I love about it most is that within the genre structure of a Time Lord and companions doing battle against foes is the fact that you can end up anywhere in time and space; in scientific reality and magical fantasy. Each episode contains surprise and mystery and imaginative ideas which draw you in again and again. So, here I go with a review of the at times completely genius, occasionally so-so, but mainly brilliant entertainment that is Season 10. If you also wish to read last season’s review please do so here.

SPOILERS AHEAD, DARLING

Couple of minor gripes before I start!  Please stop with the preview spoilers BBC!  There were too many dramatic surprises within the series given away across the TV screens and T’internet. Firstly Capaldi’s departure from the show AND John Simm would be coming back as The Master. Oh, and the origins of the Mondasian Cybermen was revealed too giving away another surprise from the exceptional double-headed finale. Lastly, now Chris Chibnall is to take over from Steven Moffat as showrunner, I hope he’ll dispense with the incessant characters dying and coming back to life trope. This has now literally been done to death. However, putting these minor grumbles aside I was very entertained by the season overall.

doctor-who-season-10-spoilers

WHAT’S IN THE VAULT?

When the commanding character actor, musician, director and writer Peter Capaldi was announced as the new Doctor Who a few years ago, I was very excited. Here was an experienced actor full of gravitas, energy, wit, light and dark humour, who would no doubt bring his own vision to the role of the ancient Gallefreyan. And I was not disappointed at all!  I really loved Capaldi’s Doctor because he was very rounded and in his face you could see the years of time-travelling experience. And wow – can he deliver a grandstanding monologue too!

In Season 10, he was meant to be anchored to Earth guarding the Vault, having taken an oath to ensure Missy/The Master does not escape. Instead he attempted to redeem Missy – portrayed with devilish brio – by Michelle Gomez. Did he succeed? Well, it’s open to interpretation. Nonetheless, this story arc was way more convincing and emotional than Season 9’s confusing “Hybrid” arc. In fact, I’d say Steven Moffatt nailed the dramatic arc and emotion on this one.

vault
THE NEW FACES

The Doctor, as well as looking after the Vault, found two new companions in tow. They were Bill Potts, played with a wide-eyed and naïve charm by Pearl Mackie. We also had a former rogue-but-now-kinda-sweet cyborg called Nardole, portrayed by the brilliant comedic actor Matt Lucas.  In a terrific meta-gag from Steven Moffat, during World Enough and Time, Missy called them “Exposition” and “Comic Relief”; however, I think they were a bit more than that.

As usual the audience were reflected in Bill’s character as her initial wide-eyed and open-mouthed awe at the Doctor and the Tardis’ capabilities gave way to an awe and wonderment at the space adventures that ensued. Bill proved herself a valuable sidekick to the Doctor. She had a kind soul and there were some emotional pull to her due her being an orphan, plus being gay created an extra dynamic in the storylines as well as some humour too.

Nardole, on the other hand, was mainly played for laughs as he had some fantastic banter with the Doctor. Lucas did not go over-the-top wacky though and gave Nardole a world-weary trudge and set of grumpy looks and fine one-liners. At the same time he remained very loyal to the Doctor and really came into his own in the latter episodes when his hacking skills were used to combat the Cybermen.

Series-10

THEMES

Thematically this season of Doctor Who was very strong. Of course the Doctor remained stalwart in his world view of protecting the oppressed against evil. But he also had a redemptive plan where Nardole and Missy were concerned. Reading between the lines it appeared Nardole had a shady past so the Doctor employs him to do right by his oath to guard Missy in the Vault. Missy however, was a more difficult proposition and during Extremis it is revealed the Doctor saves her from death, with a view to redeeming her soul. This theme plays out really well within the individual episodes, especially in the wonderful denouement of The Doctor Falls where Missy and her older self, The Master (fiendishly portrayed by John Simm) join forces against the Doctor; only for Missy to kind of atone and attempt to join the Doctor in the fight against the Cybermen.

Love was another powerful emotion and theme to pervade the season.  The Doctor’s love for, or at least yearning for the childhood friendship he had with Missy/Master shone through during those final episodes. Bill’s love for her deceased Mother was palpable too, playing a big part in defeating the Monks in The Lie of the Land. Also, it was Bill’s love for Heather during the The Pilot episode which eventually saved her and the Doctor from certain death during The Doctor Falls. It was a big leap of faith in the storyline to believe this substantive narrative call-back, but I think it really worked and I was pleased Bill survived. What becomes of the Doctor we shall see?

The episodes generally were very strong and Doctor Who also gave some terrific social commentary in between the monsters, robots and general temporal trickery. Thin Ice critiqued racism, while Oxygen did the same with corporate greed. Rogue landlords and the student life were satirized in Knock Knock and most powerfully religious, medical and military control were examined and disparaged during the trilogy episodes: Extremis, Pyramid at the End of the World and Lie of the Land. Visually the show was also very striking with agricultural, urban and futuristic locales merging with some wonderful beasts, humanoids, robots and space zombie foes. Thus, overall, in my humble opinion, it was a very impressive and rich raft of Doctor Who episodes.

missy-series-10-extremis-570x321

EPISODE REVIEW AND RATINGS (with more SPOLIERS)

  1. THE PILOT – Steven Moffat

This was a terrific opening episode full of fine sci-fi and fantasy concepts which established a melancholic desire for belonging and love across the stars. Bill meets the Doctor and is pursued by a strange alien force in oil form and we see the Vault for the first time. (Mark: 8 out of 10)

  1. SMILE – Frank Cottrell Bryce

Bill and The Doctor visit an Earth colony run by Emoji-faced robots which somehow had been programmed to treat grief and depression as a disease. A beautifully designed other world setting mixing future and agricultural landscapes is the strength of this episode. The Bill and Doctor dynamic also developed very nicely too.  (Mark: 7.5 out of 10)

 

  1. THIN ICE – Sarah Dollard

Set in London 1814, the story found a nasty English Toff exploiting a beast below the iced river of the Thames for super-fuel. Bill discovers the Doctor is not a stranger to death and as a critique of the racist and prejudicial nature of the upper classes the episode works very well. (Mark: 8 out of 10)

 

  1. KNOCK-KNOCK – Mike Bartlett

Strange landlords, cockroaches and a house that eats people are the dangers that face Bill and her flatmates in this episode. David Suchet is on excellent form as the antagonist compelled to keep his Mother alive in a touching reveal at the story end. Capaldi’s Doctor is kind of in the background but, of course, comes to the fore when danger strikes. (Mark: 8 out of 10)

  1. OXYGEN – Jamie Mathieson

This was a terrific episode set on a space station where the air is literally paid for by the breath. Space zombies run amok as the Doctor, Bill and Nardole join a panicked crew into battling both monsters and a capitalist algorithm hell-bent on increasing profits. It’s full of great space mechanics, plot twists and race-against-the-clock excitement. Plus, the biggest gut-kicker is the Doctor goes blind; and the ramifications are very dramatic in later episodes. (Mark: 8.5 out of 10)

 

  1. EXTREMIS – Steve Moffat

This was a tricksy episode because, amidst the Doctor’s blindness, we also got the Doctor saving Missy from a fate worse than a fate worse than death. We also got The Monks who, similar to the skull-faced Silence were a religious baddie determined to take over Earth. It was wonderfully crafted with a fine Monty Python “Killing Joke” homage and convincing critique of organised religion and suicide cults. Arguably the simulacra-twist at the end undermined the drama a tad, but on second watch it was a very clever and well-written episode. (Mark: 8.5 out of 10)

  1. THE PYRAMID AT THE END OF THE WORLD – Peter Harkness and Steven Moffat

Following on from the religion heavy previous episode here the writers took a swipe at the military and the scientific folly of humanity. The Monks now reveal themselves openly and clearly to the world and that they will save the Earth from a biochemical catastrophe. The most powerful aspect of this episode is Bill’s decision to save the Doctor’s sight even though it means the Monks gaining control. Here the emotional power of the script was impressive and Capaldi was awesome in both wit and gravitas. (Mark: 8 out of 10)

 

  1. THE LIE OF THE LAND – Toby Whithouse

The Monks trilogy came to an end with the world plunged into a dystopic Big Brother style mind-controlling of stupid and gullible human beings. The Doctor has sided with the Monks and Bill and Nardole must track him down to attempt a reversal of fortune. Again Bill is at the centre of the emotion here as Pearl Mackie delivers a fine dramatic performance. Safe to say the Doctor and Bill’s love for her mother defeat the Monks somewhat fantastically but a strong denouement nonetheless. (Mark: 7.5 out of 10)

 

  1. EMPRESS OF MARS – Mark Gatiss

A meta-mish-mash episode from Mark Gatiss, as Zulu meets the Icemen of Mars! This fast-paced episode was reminiscent of old Doctor Who as the British Empire soldiers find they are no match for the Icemen and their recently awoken Empress. A direct cousin to the Gatiss-penned episode Cold War, what it lacked in emotion it made up with in humour and derring-do. (Mark: 7 out of 10)

 

  1. THE EATERS OF LIGHT – Rona Munro

More soldiers but this time the episode features the Picts and legendary 9th Roman Legion which mysteriously went missing in 2nd century Scotland. There was a lilting Celtic vibe to the music and cold landscape as a vicious beast feeds on the light and any humans in its way. I enjoyed the witty script and mix of historical and science fantasy made it very watchable indeed. (Mark: 7.5 out of 10)

 

  1. WORLD ENOUGH AND TIME – Steve Moffat

This was my favourite episode of the season; only spoilt by the BBC ridiculous policy of giving away plot details in the trailers.  Here the Doctor, Nardole and Bill land on a humungous space-ship over 400 miles high which is perilously close to a black hole. The Doctor gives Missy a chance to shine as er… The Doctor and much hilarity ensues. Michelle Gomez owns this episode and the moment she meets her past Master is a wonderful twist. I loved the duality of evil theme and the ship with different temporal states was just a brilliant concept from Moffat. Bill’s slow transition into a Mondasian Cyberman is directed with creepy imagery and fear-inducing dread; while Capaldi’s face when he realises he’s too late is damned heart-breaking. (Mark: 10 out of 10)

  1. THE DOCTOR FALLS – Steven Moffat

The Doctor, Nardole and Cyber-Bill join together to battle the gathering Cybernetic storm. In their way though are the old Master and an on-the-fence-good-bad Missy. Bill’s realisation that she is a Cyber-person adds real pathos, while the Missy/Master axis of evil contains some dark wit between the action. The Doctor stands strong, until even he cannot sustain life amidst the beatings, electrocutions and explosions he suffers. With the Doctor and Bill virtually dead, and the Master and Missy killing each other, it is left to Heather (from The Pilot) to save the day. It was a big narrative pill to swallow but I loved the sentiment of love conquering space and time. Lastly, the final image of the Doctor, dying in the snow, being found by his original self was a wonderful payoff to lead into the Capaldi’s regeneration episode. (Mark: 9 out of 10)

landscape-1493034239-david-bradley-first-doctor

THE FUTURE

I read on the social media forums a lot that, amidst the more level-headed Dr Who fans, people are very critical of how the show has gone under Steven Moffat. Like a football supporter unhappy with their manager they have been complaining that Moffat’s writing is not very good and episodes have become stale and repetitive or even worse boring. Everyone is entitled to their opinion but I say to those people to stop watching.

Having viewed all of the rebooted Dr Who seasons many times I think, for a science-fiction family show screened at teatime on a Saturday it is actually on the main brilliant. Some of Moffat’s over-elaborate timey-wimey arcs have probably been too complex and fantastical, however, he has tried to be imaginative and experimental and for that should be congratulated. He has done great service to the grand Time Lord and he, the production crew, actors and writers should be proud of their wonderful efforts.

We await a new Doctor and a regenerating writing team led by Chris Chibnall of Broadchurch fame. Broadchurch was a brilliant police show set in a coastal community and if he can bring the emotion and depth of character to Doctor Who, I believe the show will be in safe hands. And who will be the next Doctor! Well, my choice would be the superb actor Reece Shearsmith and if they so happen to make the character female then I would go for Olivia Colman. Who it will be only time (and space) will tell.

 

SIX OF THE BEST #7 – GAME OF THRONES: SCENE STEALERS!

SIX OF THE BEST #7 – GAME OF THRONES: SCENE STEALERS!

Game of Thrones is one of the biggest literary and TV phenomena of recent years. It has entered Western cultures’ psyche offering a glut of: plotting, death, sex, class-divide, war, fantastical beasts and devilish sorcery!  I think the main strength lies though in the wonderful writing that stems first from George R.R. Martin’s behemoth tomes and the incredible production values of the show. Plus, the casting, acting and directing is more often than not better than most cinema offerings.

With Season Seven almost upon us I have been re-watching the show on Sky Atlantic and decided to run a few blog items over the next few weeks dedicated to Game of Thrones.  Today, I choose six characters that for me have excelled in essentially supporting roles and usually end up stealing scenes from the main characters. One could argue that some of these are now main characters, however, in an ensemble cast I consider Tyrion, Daenerys, Cersei, Jamie, Arya, Sansa, Bran, Jon Snow, Varys and – due to his heavy plot machinations – Petyr Baelish etc. to arguably be the main characters. Well, of the ones who are still alive that is!

**CONTAINS SPOILERS**


BRONN – JEROME FLYNN

“Give me ten good men and some climbing spikes. I’ll impregnate the bitch.”

Bronn initially appeared in the first season and championed for Tyrion Lannister when he faced certain death in the Eyrie. Subsequently his Northern working class “charm”, philandering and brilliant fighting skills have provided many scene-stealing moments as Jerome Flynn presents a likeable and honest sword-for-hire-killer to a tee.

bronn

JAQEN H’GHAR/THE FACELESS MAN – TOM WLASCHIBA  

“Help was not promised. Only death. Give a name, any name.”

Another assassin but this time one that is more mysterious and fantastical. Jaqen first appeared as a “tutor” of death and magical helper to Arya as he aided her escape from a Harrenhal bolthole. Subsequently, we saw nothing of him until seasons 5 and 6 when he takes Arya into his Braavos school for assassins and teaches her to become a “Faceless Man”, well women, or person of non-face and non-gendered persuasion.

jaqen

SANDOR “THE HOUND” CLEGANE – RORY McCANN

“Any man dies with a clean sword, I’ll rape his fucking corpse!”

He may have a burnt face and rotten murderous soul but I love the Hound. First seen as part of the Lannister’s sworn swords he bailed at the battle of Blackwater due to the wildfire burning bodies, ships and the horizon. After which he became a Ronin, walking the land and attempting some kind of symbolic redemption. Left for dead by Brienne of Tarth (who should be on this list) we thought we’d never see him again. But in the last season he was back; swearing, murderising and spitting out brutal one-liners with disgusting joy!


WALDER FREY
– DAVID BRADLEY

“Stark, Tully, Lannister, Baratheon. Give me one good reason why I should waste a single thought on any of you?”

The brilliant character actor David Bradley plays the nastiest, grim, old, sexist, racist, murderous bastard perfectly. You are both squirming in shock and then grimacing in horror at the words which leave his gnarled mouth. Of course, Robb Stark and his mother will never forget Walder Frey as he was the host at the infamous Red Wedding; which has a reception no one will ever forget.

YARA GREYJOY – GEMMA WHELAN

“Anything with a cock is easy to fool.”

Sister of the tragic Theon Greyjoy, Yara is the one with the proper balls in the family. Her character is first seen in Season 2, when from the start she tricks her brother with an incestuous practical joke. Yara impresses with her no nonsense attitude, intelligence and fearless confidence throughout as Gemma Whelan instils her character with a playful, yet fierce and probably psychotic depth and determination.

Game-of-Thrones-Season-4-Episode-6-Yara

YGRITTE – ROSE LESLIE

“I’ll cut your pretty cock right off and wear it round me neck.”

Ygritte was a feisty, fiery but sharp player who belied her Wildling roots to develop a passion and love for Jon Snow amidst the cold landscape beyond the wall.  Initially taken prisoner by Jon she turns the tables and eventually the two become entwined. Even watching today the chemistry between the two actors on-screen is very powerful as Rose Leslie brings real passion to the role. Moreover, their relationship also propels Jon’s softening in attitude toward the Wildling people; ultimately forging a powerful alliance.

Ygritte_Promotional

MOVIE REVIEW: WONDER WOMAN (2017)

MOVIE REVIEW: WONDER WOMAN (2017)

DIRECTOR: Patty Jenkins 

WRITERS: Created by: William Moulton Marston,
Screenplay: Allan Heinberg
Story: Allan Heinberg, Jason Fuchs, Zach Snyder

CAST: Gal Gadot, Chris Pine, Robin Wright, Danny Huston, David Thewlis, Connie Nielsen

ww_poster

**CONTAINS MINIMAL SPOILERS**

The need for super women and men to rise and protect us against the foes of everyday existence has never been more requisite. Governments, politicians, military commanders, corporate greed, religious leaders and humanity’s capacity for evil and destructive behaviour means people are under threat from violence and death on a daily basis. It’s the world we live in and one we have always lived in. Life is a gift which we continue to throw away because of a difference in beliefs, thoughts, race, gender and language. It is insane but I doubt it will ever stop. So, one must except it and be grateful for all the good people and for every day one is alive. But how do you escape from this terror that lurks in the world and the fear that comes with it? Well, we have the fantasies on film and TV screens and in comic books that convince us we can be saved; that the bad people in league with the devil can be put to the sword of justice. This month we have the Amazonian powerhouse that is Wonder Woman!!

wonder-woman-battle-set-images

The DC comic-book-cinema-world has taken a critical pasting and much of this can be put at the door of the attention-deficit-director Zach Snyder and of course the studios themselves who have, in my humble opinion, ignored the basics of storytelling and genre in a bombastic attempt to out-do Marvel’s slick and productive Universe. Indeed, there were great films somewhere in the over-stuffed crusts of Man of Steel (2013), Suicide Squad (2016) and the incomprehensible Batman v. Superman (2016); brilliant characters, actors, special effects, action, set-pieces, music in all of them. However, they were ultimately let down by the structure and storytelling. Not so with Wonder Woman, which goes back to basics and takes its time to establish our heroine’s origins and, unlike the other DC films, builds character and empathy prior to launching into a feast of amped-up-to-eleven fight sequences and wondrous leaps of derring-do.

Wonder_WOman_London

At the centre of all the action is the athletic Gal Gadot as Diana, Princess of Themyscira, who as a girl, desires to join her Aunt Antiope (scene-stealing Robin Wright) as a great warrior, but is forbidden by her mother Queen Hippolyta (Connie Nielsen.) The first act is full of powerful mythology, imagery and characters and to be honest I could have watched a film about their lives on the beautiful secret island. Yet when their peace is unsettled by the appearance of Chris Pine’s American spy and the German Navy pursuing him we get an almighty beach battle between the modern-day Teutonic troops and the Amazonian warriors. This sets the tone of the mythological past juxtaposing with the modern era (albeit circa 1914-1918) and this theme remains one of the strengths of the film.

wonder-woman-227610
With the introduction of the charismatic and handsome Steve Trevor (Pine), Diana is galvanized to fight for the Allies in World War One, and thus truly begins the heroine’s journey. The pace and turns in the narrative are handled extremely well by director Patty Jenkins. She gives as much importance to the scenes between Diana and Steve, notably the witty exchanges on the boat and during Diana’s first encounter with the big city. This ensures we are committed to their relationship and the romance had echoes of Indiana Jones and Marian Ravenwood’s from Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981). Conversely, everyone’s favourite baddies, the Germans, provide a solid nemesis which to root against as Danny Huston’s General and his more interesting assistant, Doctor Maru (Elena Anaya), develop a heinous gas with which to defeat the Allies.

wonder_woman18

I think I liked the film so much mainly because it was simple in structure, well directed, and yet retained much of the magical fantasy and mythology of the comic books. Moreover, it contained some kick-ass slow-motion action sequences and the sight of a warrior Princess using a mighty sword and golden rope while taking out Germans and huge tanks was nothing less than breath-taking. The cast, especially Gadot and Pine commit wonderfully to their characters and the story. Minor criticisms are the slightly over-long running time and the cardboard cut-out nature of the secondary German characters. Nonetheless, as superhero films go Wonder Woman is right up there with some of Marvel’s best movies.

Essentially a traditional origins story, Wonder Woman may follow the well-worn formula of establishing our heroine, her strengths and her commitment to peace through powerful means, but it does it with verve, heart and compassion. I cared about these characters and while it may be a simple notion that love can conquer all, it is a universal emotion that I can definitely get behind. Because there is a lot of hatred on Earth and it needs all the heroes and heroines it can find; even if they are merely fantasy.

(Mark: 9 out of 11)

  

 

A LOVELY NIGHT IN THE SUN: LA LA LAND (2016) REVIEWED

A LOVELY NIGHT IN THE SUN:  LA LA LAND (2016) REVIEWED

**SPOILER ALERT!**

In light of the FOURTEEN Oscar nominations from the Academy who am I to go against the tide of musical loveliness that is La La Land. Indeed, while I dislike all kinds of award ceremonies per se it does deserve most of the accolades coming its way. Because as the Trump puppet rears his huge, ugly head in the United States and Brexit looms large in the UK we all need something feel-good and nostalgic to lift us; especially amidst the bitter cold of winter.

la-la-land-posters_00

Damian Chazelle, who wrote and directed the exceptional drama Whiplash (2014), has sculpted a sunny post-modern musical which soars throughout paying tribute to both Los Angeles and Hollywood. The movie stars Ryan Gosling as an uncompromising jazz pianist and Emma Stone as a sensitive, budding actress who meet in a contemporary yet somehow old-fashioned vision of LA; where magic and love are in the air and the potentialities of dreams are a palpable force.

la_la_land_6

Stone and Gosling are a stunning couple and while Chazelle’s leads may not have the strongest voices they serve the songs exceptionally well with an ordinary wonder. The chemistry between the two sparkles as the story entwines their characters within a “follow your dream” narrative. Arguably there could’ve been slightly more differences between the two than the “I hate jazz” tension; but as in the romantic comedy Crazy, Stupid, Love (2011), Stone and Gosling sail through the film with confidence and profound likeability.

la_la_land_2

Chazelle throws everything at the story employing jazz, 80s pop, old band numbers, R and B, and ballads. Moreover, all manner of parody, pastiche and cinematic devices are employed to echo the classic Hollywood musicals of yesteryear; the formidable work of Jacques Demy; plus the more modern pop promos of recent times. The opening Another Day of Sun traffic sequence is a real showstopper as Fame-like dancing and singing on motors in an LA highway jam brilliantly establishes the hyper-real and fantastical elements to come.

LaLaLand_clip_playsetlist.jpgIt seems obvious to say that the music in La La Land is to the fore, but Chazelle and the ultra-talented composer Justin Hurwitz commit a verve and soul to the songs and direction. Clearly the characters and lyrics reflect their own personal emotions, dreams and desire to escape everyday existence. While much of the film skims a stylish surface of colour and verve, numbers such as City of Stars and The Fools Who Dream really touch the heartstrings and draw out the internal emotions of the characters.

la_la_land_4

It’s hard to criticize such a funny, feel-good movie and as a musical it is probably a masterpiece, however, while the love story served the musical structure really well, I felt that, compared to say Funny Girl (1968), Grease (1977) and Half-A-Sixpence (1967) it arguably lacked a bit of dramatic tension. Indeed, the break-up itself was under-baked and latterly covered by a have-your-cake-and-eat-it “what could have been” fantasy flashback. Yet, this is a minor critique of an incredibly well realised escapist joy.

la-la-land

So, roll on the Oscars where the film will almost certainly win best film and direction, plus accolades, no doubt, for the musical and technical achievements. The wonderful Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone are certain to be in the fray too. However, while I have seen other more dramatically impactful films such as: Arrival (2016), Manchester by the Sea (2016) and Silence (2016) (not even nominated!!), this remains one terrific musical that will lift the spirits even on the darkest day.